Being a pinball-head meant a key Wii launch game for me was Gottlieb Pinball Classics. The game received only moderate coverage in both print and online media, it was simply eclipsed by the likes of Zelda and Red Steel. However, as I will go on to discuss here, there is much to enjoy in what at first appears to be nothing more than a PS2 port. Also, with the upcoming release of a similar collection of Williams tables, and its falling price, there’s never been a better time to pick the game up.
The game offers a good variety of machines, ranging from the 70’s to 90’s. As someone who played mainly in the mid to late 90’s I would have liked more of the modern machines. Anyway, here's a break down of the different tables on offer: Eldorado - Simple bonus mutliplyer table, Genie - Multiple flippers and bonus tracks, Big Shot - Pool themed game, Strikes n’ Spares - Bowling alley novelty table, Ace High - Novelty card themed table, Love Meter - Measure your love ability for extra credits, Xolten - Predict your future for extra credits, Goin Nuts - Timer based multiball play, Central Park - Nudge and target based play, Black Hole - Sunken sub-table offers secondary play field, Victory - Sequential race targets drive the gameplay, Tee’d Off - Multiple modes add variety to the sequential ramp/lane golf course play.
A successful video pinball simulation needs realistic physics, well developed table design and authentic touch and feel. These things depend largely on the ingenuity of the games design rather than on advanced graphics. Pinball Dreams on the Amiga achieved these things without the heavy weight processing available today,
The good news is that Gottlieb Classics achieves well in all these categories. The physics are solid and realistic, modelling ball speed and spin accurately. This enables you to treat the tables with the sort of touch and control that is needed for their physical counterparts. You soon find yourself using classic pinball techniques such as flipper swapping, defensive nudges and ball trapping are all achievable and necessary to advance through the game.
The table design, which often suffers from a lack of attention in video pinball simulations, obviously benefits from the time spent on the original machines. Although I hadn’t physically played any of the tables on offer, they all seemed well implemented. There was a real sense of a depth of play that reveals more of the game as you attune to its pace and shots.
The game is also intelligently structured to get you playing the older machines in order to win credits for the newer tables. This meant that I ended up spending many happy hours on Eldorado and Genie, tables that I could easily have overlooked.
A lot of this has probably been noted for Gottlieb Classics on other platforms. However, the intelligent use of the Wii’s motion controls really adds a degree of physicality. The Wii-mote nudges the table right, and the nun-chuck nudges it left. This works surprisingly well and really does work just like those last minute reaction shoves of a physical cabinets. The only aspect lacking is the ability to give an upwards shove, and hence the inability to attempt a death save, popping the ball back up from behind the flippers.
This all adds up to a confident pinball game that provides a great rendition of some classic Gottlieb games. It finally delivers commercially on the territory previously reserved for the community driven Visual Pinball, namely the re-creation of real world tables. With the upcoming Williams collection and (one would hope) other constructors such as Bally waiting in the wings, things are certainly looking up for video pinball.